Citations are an art and there is usually more than one way to correctly write one. And given that I am obsessed with discovering clusters in my genealogy I took a good long look at how I could write my citations in the U.S. Census to maybe reveal some new information.
Now, we all know, or we should all know, that the census taker doesn’t take the exact same route ever decade. We also know that just because two households are next to each other that they may or may not be next to each other in actuality. But reviewing who lived next to who or in the same area gives you some clues.
I write my 1850 census citation as such:
1850 U.S. census, Cleveland County, North Carolina, population schedule, dwelling 1098, family 1098, James Hambright; farmer, $700 real estate.Age: 58; farmer, $700 real estate
I don’t write down where I found the census or when because you can find them in multiple places and that information is just not that interesting to me. With the county, state, dwelling, family and name, I should be able to find it again.
When I look at the census citations for James in my Family Tree Maker listings, I see:
I can look at the ages, are they consistent? How did his real estate and personal value change? James increased his real estate from $700 to $3000 in 10 years. Did he inherit land or was he industrious? Also the decline from $3050 to $300 in personal value from 1860 to 1870 may mean that he owned slaves.
Now I go an look at the 1850 source listings:
I can look at who else I have in my database that lives around him. Is richer or poorer than his neighbors? Any known relatives? But I am pretty spotty in Cleveland County in 1850. Since I’m currently working on a cluster in York County, I have a much more solid view of people living in the same area:
I started with my Maritin’s who are dwellings 90 through 94 and then started pulling census records for everyone around them. I pad the dwelling and family numbers with 0 (zeros) so that they line up nicely. I notice that Thomas Martin, the father of the other Martins, owns real estate, and the rest don’t. Other records suggest they live on his property, and that they all inherit the land upon his death. About half the names listed owned no real estate and are listed as laborers. Want to bet they worked for the farmers listed here? I also have a good idea of what land records to look at to lay out this neighborhood.
You might also notice that I included an image number for these citations. I don’t usually do that. But in York county, there are duplicate dwelling/family numbers and the page numbers are duplicates as well. I was getting confused, so I put it this way in the citation so that I could see who lived near who. You’ll notice that I’m missing age in these and I occasionally miss occupation and what is owned. I have also opted not to put in who can read, etc. Though it might be an interesting thing to add. Or names in the household.
It’s up to you. What is relevant and makes it interesting to you.
I’ve not figured out how to get this listing in RootsMagic and you can’t do it in online trees. If someone knows differently, please let me know.
And I have spend HOURS and HOURS revising my citations and working on how to write and format them to reveal a picture of who lived near who and what the neighborhood looked like. It is not a project for the faint of heart, as it can be very time consuming. But it has helped me to gain understanding. This cluster from Lexington, Virginia in 1850 shows a neighborhood of people who were not farmers but used a different skill set:
It gives you a different view of the area your ancestor lived.
What works for you? Don’t use your citation to just mark where you found something, use it as an organizational tool to help reveal information about your ancestor.
So the more I ponder and the more I mull, it seems there is more than one type of cluster you can put your ancestor in.
Clusters that are a single event.
Signing a petition is a single event that creates a cluster. Being enumerated in 1830 in York County is a multi day event that creates a cluster. Participating in the battle of Kings Mountain on October 7th, 1780 is a single event; everyone who participated is part of the cluster.
Clusters that have members over a period of time.
Belonging to a church or being married and starting a family happens over a period of time. You can find a start date and an end date for the cluster and you can define a start and end date for your ancestor.
If your ancestor fought in the Civil War he belonged to a cluster of men who fought for a company. The company has a start and end date; and your ancestor participated for the full time of the company’s existence or some subset of that time.
If you ancestor belong to the Antioch Baptist Church, the people who belonged were a cluster. The church membership has a start date and possibly an end date. Your ancestor’s membership has a start and and end date within that. That will help you determine how to direct your research.
Big Clusters or Small?
Each cluster is interesting in its own right and should be identified and investigated. The fewer number of people in the cluster, I suspect the more meaningful the insights you can gain about those people.
Everyone who fought for the Confederacy is too big of a cluster to research. Everyone who belonged to the South Carolina 17th Infantry Regiment, Company F is much more focused and easier to research. Or maybe you want to research the wives of the men who belonged to the company — it is a well defined cluster of people who have something specific in common.
Or you could research everyone in that company who participated in the Battle of Antietam. It’s defined, and the people who participated can be defined.
What does it mean to research a cluster?
If your ancestor belongs to any given cluster, your research into that cluster should tell you something about your ancestor. Maybe what his beliefs were. What her life was like. You should know that person better because you know something about that cluster.
To discover this, you need to be able to put the people in the cluster in context of the time and place.
The petition was signed in 1834. Where were the men living between 1830 and 1840? You would guess that they lived in York County, SC in 1834. Had they just arrived? Did they soon leave or did they spend their lives in the same place.
Where they young or old? Did they have families? Were they farmers? What did they farm? Were they related to each other? Did they own land? Did they own slaves or were they slaves? Did they attend church together?
What was happening in York County around that time? What was happening in South Carolina?
General Research Plan To Understand A Cluster
I’m sure that I will modify and add to this over time, but I want a place to start. And not just pulling a bunch of documents about the people who were involved — I want to understand who they were and what their lives were like.
And I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!
It’s easy to skip those early census records, they just have that one name, often unreadable and a lot of tick marks. But you will find the cluster of people living in the household, likely family members.
So how do you pull the clusters of out these documents and associate names with the tick marks.
Step one: Find The Record.
I dig up every name and age I can in the census records that enumerate the families, or any other document I can find, before I start digging into the pre 1850 census records. Obviously, the more you know, the easier the association is. This helps me make sure I have the correct pre 1850 census, and identify who the tick marks might be. Then I find the record and the image – my site of choice is Ancestry, obviously there are other places.Then I do a screen grab of the record.
Step Two: List The Name And Age of Everyone In The Family
Thomas Martin Sr was one of 4 Thomas Martins living York County in 1830. But he was the only one who was in his 70s. I then list him, his wife and his children and the ages they would have been in 1840.
Step Three: Map The Family.
Sometimes this works perfectly, and you have one tick mark for every person and you give that little sigh of contentment. But you may be missing people, or you may have extra people. I mark them as Unknown. Thomas and Sabra are easy to identify, but their children are much older than 2 other people listed. Are they grandchildren? Nieces and nephews? They are in their 70s and might need help with day to day living. That could explain someone who was between 15 and 19. But younger than 5? Doubtful. I will keep an eye out for people who die young and leave children who are unaccounted for.
Step Four: Map The Slaves
You don’t have names, but you map them as Unknowns. You may find wills that list names and ages that will help you identify people; you may find bills of sale with names and ages. And even if it makes you uncomfortable to think about, map them anyway, you need to know the whole cluster to understand the people who lived in that household. In this case, there are none.
Step Five: Update Your Documentation.
I add the image to the record in FTM and I make it private (unless I forget!) because I don’t want to clog up people’s search results, but you should do what makes sense to you. I have also just started putting the summary of what I’ve found in the citation detail for the record.
In this case it would be Thomas, btw 1751-1760; Sabra, between 1751-1760; 1 female, btw 1811-1815; 1 female btw 1826-1830; no slaves
Step Six: Attach To Everyone
This may horrify some people – if Sabra Martin isn’t listed on the document, you shouldn’t attach it. But I’m pretty sure Sabra Martin is on the document. It’s my best guess. And it puts Sabra, who is believed to be born in North Carolina in 1759, in York County in 1830. I need to know that. If I believe that she died in 1850 and she isn’t on the 1830 and 1840 census, I need to rethink what I know.
Trees on the internet and on desktop software are not published papers with well thought out proofs. They change often, and sometimes they are wrong. They are our best guess as to what we think at any given moment.
I personally, don’t create people labelled unknown in my tree to map out those I find and can’t identify. But I make notations that they are there. Especially cases like this one. They are too young to belong to Sabra — I doubt she had a child at the age of 66. The 15-19 year old might be hers, but according to the data in Thomas’ Revolutionary War pension, not at all likely.
This is where the tree structure fails us. We have a cluster of people living as some kind of family unit but they don’t fit into the parent and children format. How do we represent them?
For now, I’ve got this:
It isn’t enough to know who parents were and what someones vitals are. We have to find ways, better than what we have, to represent how people lived together, worked together and took care of each other.
I have 29 men, some I think I know, some I have no idea. The petition submitted to the SC General Assembly was written in 1834, and according to the SC Archives, these men are inhabitants of York County, SC. So it seems reasonable to look in York County and the census seems a likely place to start, namely 1830 and 1840.
This will not be quick, easy or exact. But quick, easy and exact is not worth writing about. 🙂
I’m going to start in 1830 and start looking for Martins. Ancestry tells me there are 11, more than are in the petition, but given that it is a surname in my tree and there aren’t a lot of them, it seems reasonable to take a bit of a detour here and figure out who all 11 are if I can.
There are 3 Thomas Martins in the 1830 census. Because, why not?
I start there and find six listed together; three of them are Thomas. Scanning these census pages, I see that the entries are not semi-alphabetical, so it suggests that these men might have lived in the same general area or were at least on a path that the census taker took. They very well might be related. Or not. But it is highly likely they knew each other.
I’m going to assume that each of these six men were the oldest males in the household. Yes, I am well aware this may not be the case, but if you don’t make some assumptions you will probably get nowhere. So here are the six ordered by age:
Looking at what I have on my Martins, I think I can identify who some of the men are:
The oldest Thomas is Thomas (1756-1835); the second Thomas is his son, Thomas (1778-1855); the third Thomas is the son of the second, Thomas Mart (1806-1855).
John Martin is most likely the son of the oldest Thomas, John (1784-1864). Notice there are two John Martins in that family. The first one died very young, and they named the next son John. Obviously an important name to the family.
So who are William and Absolom? Both names appear on the petition. Are they sons of the oldest Thomas and the dates are just wrong on the census? Why is this always so messy? Oh right, it’s genealogy!
Yesterday, I started writing about how I have been mulling and pondering about what is in my genealogy toolkit. And I came up lacking on tools to help me understand documents as clusters.
I was looking at a petition that some of my ancestors had signed asking the SC General Assembly not to change the SC Constitution. By the way, that petition did not work out, the General Assembly was still all about nullification and states rights and changed the SC Constitution.
Twenty nine men signed this document. So how do I understand who they were? I’m going to start by relating them to one person, in this case Bird Martin, my 3rd great grandfather. Just something simple and just starting with my best guesses based on who I have in my tree:
And my first guesses to who these men are may be wrong. But I can now start to pull more evidence and wrap more thought around it. And it’s a place to start.
Any document with at least two people in it is a cluster. One is too lonely a cluster to consider. 🙂
Let’s take another example, a deed that includes Bird Martin and Jesse Blanton. Neither is a primary person in this deed. Bird is a witness; Jesse has neighboring land. But this document makes them a cluster, and Bird and Jesse are in the petition cluster so it is relevant. In 1846, John Wood sold land to Peter Sepaugh. I’m going to start creating summary pages for deeds and the like on my blog, such as South Carolina, York County – 1846 – John Wood to Peter Sepaugh
Who are all of the people in this deed and how do they relate to Bird?
And neither of these list is verified or something that I would bet my life on. It is a starting place for us to start learning about these people and their place in the community.
Next up, using census records to determine identity.
I was poking around on South Carolina Department of Archives and History looking through their online digitized images, specifically looking for transcribed wills. And I discovered Petitions to the General Assembly while searching for my ancestor Bird Martin.
And I found this entry: Inhabitants of York District, Petition Against the Proposed Altering of the State Constitution.
It’s an interesting document. South Carolina in the 1830s and 1840s was all in an uproar about tax tariffs and this brought on the Nullification Crisis. In 1843, South Carolina wanted to update its Constitution, specifically, Article IV to be a little bit more state centered. (Different post, coming later to this blog.) And these gentleman disagreed with the idea of amending the constitution.
Looking at the document, we see that the petition itself is type written. This suggests other counties and groups may have been given this petition as well to circulate and gather signatures. While most of the names are in different handwriting, the names of John Mooreland, all the Martins, and Ransom Collins, who was married to a sister of the Martins, looks like it was written the same person.
Now to be honest, this document doesn’t do much to help me fill out the family tree of Bird Martin. No relationships are stated. It puts Bird in a place and time, but there are other documents that do that as well. If I was looking for evidence to create an indirect proof that Bird was related to the rest of these Martins, I could use it along with other documents. But I have better documents for the family relationships. Bird’s father Thomas died intestate and you know what a great source of information that is.
I really don’t learn anything I don’t already know about Bird’s family relationships.
But I can’t be done with this document. It’s really interesting, at least to me. I went digging for the South Carolina constitution in around that time looking for the differences. I read up on the Tariff issues that preceded this. But what I don’t have is a way to store it. We all have a construct to show parents and previous generations, i.e., the family tree. And it exists in a wide variety of places: online, desktop software, and hand written forms. We have another construct to show the family unit, which is the family group sheet. Not as common, but it exists in multiple places.
I created a timeline, which is a great tool in looking at a person’s life.
But there is more on this document. There is a cluster of men who lived in York County, SC that believed a specific thing at a specific time. And that tells me something about my ancestor and this cluster of men that I didn’t know. Where is the tool or form that records cluster information? How do I know what information I’m supposed to collect?
I use Family Tree Maker to store my genealogy data. And I’ve attached this document to all the men I could identify on the petition.
But when I’m doing cluster research or FAN research or whatever you want call it, what exactly should I be collecting? And how should I store it so it is useful to me? And how do I use cluster data to tell the story of my ancestor? Where are the tools to help me put that together? And a Kinship Determination Project is a report, not a tool or set of tools to pull this together.
I feel like we are missing a few things in our genealogy toolkit. Standards and forms that help us collect cluster data. And tools that tie it all together. Standards, forms and tools that can be easily explained and easily replicated. If you have forms or other tools you use to collect this information, let me know.
But I’ve been Mulling and Pondering (h/t to J Mark Lowe) for a long time. And I’m on a mission to try and figure it out.